Kenyan Book Company Brings Online Sales to East Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The Internet has revolutionized retail sales in many developed countries – and nowhere more so than for booksellers. The ability to offer an almost unlimited supply of books through a website is revolutionizing the way people shop and giving life to books long out of print or by unknown authors.

Kenya has recently gained a reputation for doing things differently in Africa and making great strides when it comes to using information technologies. And the next development in this story is the launch of a Kenyan online book shop modelled on the successful U.S. online bookseller Amazon (

A book boom is well underway across the global South. Literary festivals continue to expand, from Colombia in South America to India to Nigeria in West Africa, and so do sales of books, newspapers and magazines. While the publishing industries in developed countries despair at the impact of digital media on their profits, in the global South, rising prosperity and literacy are fuelling greater interest in reading and a growing print publishing industry. For example, India is experiencing 15-per-cent-a-year growth for its publishing industry, which is valued at nearly US $2 billion (Frankfurt Book Fair).

Kenya’s Text Book Centre (TCB) (, considered one of the country’s most reputable booksellers, has launched its own online book selling portal and its “eBook web store”. It is targeting readers across East Africa and sells books in 14 categories. Being Kenyan, it is taking an innovative approach that recognizes the large numbers of people who are doing all their transactions over mobile phones. The book portal allows customers to make purchases with their mobile phones using mobile money. This system uses the Kopo Kopo ( software platform, which allows small and medium sized businesses to accept mobile phone payments.

Kopo Kopo was first developed in Sierra Leone in 2011, before being further prototyped in Kenya. Kopo Kopo wanted to develop an effective mobile platform to help small and medium sized businesses to better interact with their customers. The Kopo Kopo service was officially launched in February 2012 and is partnered with Safaricom, using its M-PESA Buy Goods service. It is being currently used by hundreds of businesses, from “salons to restaurants to office supply stores”, according to Kopo Kopo’s website.

As an added benefit, the Kenyan online book platform is joined by a new marketplace for thousands of African ebooks. This part of the service is called eKitabu (

EKitabu will be a big boost to the continent’s authors and also open up new opportunities for budding authors who previously would have struggled to get published and distribute their work. If the ebook web store follows the dynamic of online booksellers in more developed markets, then this ability to gain exposure for author’s work and find an audience could also attract bigger publishers and spark interest in international book deals for formerly obscure writers.

The Text Book Centre was founded in 1964 by two Indian business partners in Kenya, Mr. SV Shah and Mr. MJ Rughani, and is now considered the leading bookstore in Kenya, specializing in leisure and educational books, according to its website.

Headquartered in Nairobi’s central business district, it focuses on providing books for the educational sector and strives to be “East Africa’s leading leisure and educational bookstore and office support resource centre”. It also supplies to customers in Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Malawi, Zanzibar and Tanzania.


1) Tara Books: Based in Chennai, India, the book publisher is a co-operative and has published 200,000 hand-made books since its founding in 1994. Website:

2) Pathlight: A Beijing, China-based literary magazine with new writing and poetry. Website:

3) “Indian readers keep publishing industry on growth track”. Website:

4) African Publishers Network (APNET): APNET’s vision is the transformation of African peoples through books. APNET’s mission is to strengthen African publishing through networking, training, trade promotion, Intellectual Property (IP) and advocacy, in partnership with other stakeholders, to fully meet Africa’s need for quality, relevant books. Website:

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s